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Don't play with fire, Russia tells West

By REN QI in Moscow | China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-04 09:24

Alexei Navalny attends a hearing to consider an appeal against an earlier court decision to change his suspended sentence to a real prison term, in Moscow, Russia, Feb 20, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Russia on Tuesday accused the United States and the European Union of seeking to divert attention from their internal problems by imposing sanctions on Russia, and warned them not to "play with fire".

The EU earlier on Tuesday imposed sanctions on "high-ranking Russian officials" over the alleged poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

According to the Russian state news agency Tass, the measures cover Russian Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov, Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin, Federal Penitentiary Service head Alexander Kalashnikov and Russian National Guard commander Viktor Zolotov.

Peter Stano, the foreign affairs spokesman for the EU, said all 27 EU member states endorsed the sanctions.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded quickly to the EU's actions, saying the bloc's move was aimed at diverting attention from its own problems, "namely those related to chemical weapons and the huge internal problems".

Hours later, the administration of US President Joe Biden matched the EU's move in announcing its first sanctions against Russia in relation to Navalny.

The penalties-like those adopted by the EU-target senior Russian law enforcement officials, as well as matching sanctions the EU and the UK imposed earlier on other Russians allied with President Vladimir Putin in response to the Navalny case.

Setting the tone

The Bloomberg news agency said the sanctions by Washington will help set the tone for Biden's relationship with Putin, whom the new US president said he will treat as more of an adversary than his predecessor, Donald Trump, did.

Russia's currency, the rouble, recovered sharply after Bloomberg reported the actions, reversing earlier losses as investors were encouraged by the sanctions' relatively narrow scope.

"The Kremlin's use of chemical weapons to silence a political opponent and intimidate others demonstrates its flagrant disregard for international norms," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

"We join the EU in condemning Alexei Navalny's poisoning as well as his arrest and imprisonment by the Russian government."

The US demands the release of Navalny, his allies and others detained in Russia and an end to the persecution of his supporters, one senior administration official told reporters in a briefing. On Feb 2, Navalny was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' jail for parole breaches.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed Russia would "definitely respond" to the new sanctions.

"The US administration has taken a hostile anti-Russian attack," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement late on Tuesday.

"We urge our colleagues not to play with fire."

The ministry said Russia will have a "reciprocal but not necessarily symmetrical" response to Biden's first major action against it.

It accused the White House of "cultivating the image of an external enemy" and plunging US-Russian ties "to the point of complete freezing".

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